Camp Helps Build Communication Through Horses 

Posted on June 25, 2024

horse power camp

Larry Farrer sits astride a stately brown horse with white markings, holding his arms out perpendicular to the ground. His horse walks onto a low platform, then walks off, Farrer still holding his arms up. He has a wide grin on his face. 

Farrer is one of three people who took part in UNCG’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD) two-week camp for adults with aphasia at HorsePower Therapeutic Learning Center in High Point. 

Aphasia is when a person has damage to their brain that affects the language area. Most commonly it occurs through a stroke or a tumor, and it impacts talking, reading, and writing. 

“Thoughts are not impacted,” said Dr. Jessica Obermeyer a CSD professor who helped with the camp. Obermeyer specializes in adult neurogenic language disorders, including aphasia. “It can feel like you are stuck in your head. Words may come slower or incorrectly.” 

The camp was open to members of UNCG’s aphasia group, operated by UNCG’s Speech and Hearing Center. All three participants attended the camp last year, and wanted to come again. All three remembered how to get on their horses, tacking, grooming, and many of the words used for the horses, said Lisa McDonald, Director of the Speech and Hearing Center, and who also helped with the camp. 

The camp is special because all the horses at HorsePower are trained therapeutic horses. A rider stays with the same horse for the duration of the camp. The cadence of the horse can help produce speech and core strength for a person. 

Perry Flynn at Horse Power Camp

“We want them to have fun experiences, just like everyone else,” Obermeyer said. “It can also build communication into the activity they’re interested in.” 

Farrer said he was interested in the camp because it was something new. 

“I’d had no experiences with horses, and this was something different for me,” he said. “I came out and I was fascinated.” 

Farrer, who lives in Greensboro, had two strokes in 2018. 

“I was a workaholic, and taught at three colleges, and was head baseball coach at Dudley (High School),” he said. 

He experienced stress in his personal life as well, but said because he didn’t drink or smoke, he thought, “nothing could happen to me.” 

“My cardiologist was doing a heart catheter and while doing it I suffered two strokes. I’m just glad I was in the hospital when it happened. I’m blessed I wasn’t driving,” Farrer said. 

After the strokes, he was hospitalized for 30 days, unable to recognize his family. He said it was a difficult recovery. 

Being an educator, losing the ability to read was hard. Being around the (UNCG) aphasia group really helped me.

Larry Farrer, Camp Participant

He’s grateful he had the chance to come to the HorsePower Camp, as well. 

“I’m very hard on myself. This year, when I came out and was able to remember as much as I did, was win-win,” Farrer said, explaining how many horse-related words he could recall. 

In addition to the CSD faculty and Speech and Hearing staff at the camp, four CSD graduate students were responsible for developing the curriculum that accompanies the program. They also helped with the participants daily. 

After the participants rode horses, they worked on language development. This includes learning the anatomy of the horses, working with models of horses, playing games to help with recall, looking at photos and repeating words, learning facts, and other techniques. 

The graduate students get 30 clinical hours for their work with the camp, said CSD faculty member Professor Perry Flynn, who developed the camp. 

“They began preparing in early May. They send me lesson plans to critique,” Flynn said. “As we go on during the camp, they tailor the lessons themselves.” 

The students established goals for their clients during the camp and at the end a progress report was written and given to their clients, he said. 

Flynn has organized and held camps at HorsePower for more than a decade. The camps have varied from adult survivors with traumatic brain injuries to adjudicated youth to children who use something other than oral communication. This is the second year for adults with aphasia working with therapeutic horses. 

Farrer said he’s grateful UNCG created one for adults with aphasia.

This camp gives me a sense of confidence I didn’t have, and the students are wonderful. They give me a nudge when I need it. I love the program.

Larry Farrer

Article and photos by Sarah Newell